ONEplace Blog

News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.

Inter(active)dependence

I get jazzed when I'm part of a group that's getting deep in the hoo-ha on issues that matter. Last week (Nov 6), we had moments of that during our Community Alignment workshop.

During the discussion, Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh (Kalamazoo Community Foundation) offered three keen insights that brought this elusive topic into clearer view.

Community alignment is an act of our will
We choose to be aligned or not. There's no magic formula or moment when all falls into place. Alignment occurs when two or more organizations set their intentions to a common outcome and consent to common goals; when we choose to combine our power to do good and to do it well.

Community alignment is about a better way to connect us
Our work takes on greater meaning when it engages us in something bigger than ourselves or our organizations. When we choose to align around these larger goals, the connections we make are stronger and deeper. They withstand conflict and debate, and they surround us with the net of support required to pursue transformational change.

Community alignment begins by starting conversations with people we don't know
While we acknowledge the truth that "we're all in this together," we often don't recognize that "all" includes those voices not being heard. Aligning with those we know takes work. Seeking those we don't know - but need to know - requires curiosity as well as vulnerability. Let's keep asking, "Who's not at the table?" And then, offer them a chair.

We live in a dynamic community - a living system in constant flux. In such a place, community alignment is not something to be attained so much as to be pursued (like "the pursuit of happiness"). At best we'll achieve moments - moments when months of effort from many people results in lives being changed...improved...transformed. At the end of the day, that's something to celebrate!

Then, tomorrow, we do it all over again.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Executing Leaders

It’s Halloween! So I bow to the gruesome and gory and offer a gallowed twist to basic leadership practices.

Hang’em High – Put your clean & dirty laundry high on the line for all to see. Transparency is a must and leaders should be the first to admit mistakes and offer second chances.

Stake in the Heart – Plant your stake (i.e., take a stand) aligned with your passion. A misplaced stake will burn you out, and unplanted stakes mean you and your organization stand for nothing.

Firing Squad – Keep the right people on the bus in the right seats and fire those who shouldn’t be on the bus. Make the difficult decision and do it compassionately and appropriately – but do it. Not taking action frustrates the people you want to keep and it holds back the operation.

Off with their Heads – Big-headed egos must go! And, the bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall. It’s not about you (the leader), and it’s not even about your organization. It’s about your mission and the collective impact you can make aligned with others who share your vision.

Leaders who execute well not only know what to do, they have the fortitude to do it.

ThomA

Coffee with Sid Ellis

This month, we sit down with Sid Ellis, Executive Director of the Black Arts & Cultural Center (BACC), and talk about his career path, his passion for theatre arts, and his love for Kalamazoo.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I have been doing Community Theater for over 20 years: directing, acting and writing; and was a professional actor with a group called “The Mad Hatters.” I have performed professional storytelling and puppetry for 15 years. I also served as Video Director for Christian Life Center for 12 years and have been a producer at the Public Media Network for over 20 years. I received my BA in Business Management from Spring Arbor University in 2007. The BA degree and my experience in the community enabled me to get the position at BACC.

What do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

First, it’s the opportunity in the arts and the showcasing of the variety of fine and performance arts in the community. I also love downtown Kalamazoo, especially in the spring & summer when it’s so alive with activity. Top it off with the events that happen at WMU and K College.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

I am a servant leader and I love working with people in the community who are making a difference whether it’s in the arts or for social reasons. I love helping people accomplish their goals, especially in the arts.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

Pastor Joel Brooks, Jr. has been a great mentor for me and he strongly encouraged me to write my ideas and goals down. He said, it will not start happening in you if you don’t write it down, and he was right.

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

Developing youth programs for middle and high school age youth has been a challenge. Sometimes we are able to collaborate with other organizations, yet the students usually come on a drop-in basis and are not consistent enough to generate a solid program.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

Since our events and programs are so diverse, it is hard to stay up-to-date. Plus, as the only paid staff member, I’m involved in all aspects of the organization including: grant writing, fund development, program development and implementation, and handling the day to day office responsibilities. So, I utilize ONEplace and its opportunities and information. I also try to review other organizations’ information on the internet. Facebook has been a big help in getting information.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

Build relationships and collaborations. Make sure the collaborations are a win-win situation and not just you helping someone else; make sure your organization is going to gain something from it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel but do improve on it. A lot of times there are organizations already doing what you are doing; find out how you can work together.

What do you geek?

Acting, directing, storytelling and puppetry.

ThomA

Focus

Autofocus used to bug me. I’d take a picture of two people standing side-by-side, and invariably the camera would capture the detail of the plant centered behind them and blur their faces.

I eventually learned the trick of autofocus, but it still bothered me. The auto feature distracted me from my desired focus of attention.

Now, more than ever, distractions abound. Our attention gets pulled in several directions every minute. Yet, research and practical experience show time again that our ability to focus – to pay attention in the right way, at the right time – is critical for success.

Focus not only directs our attention, it also brings things into clear view. As the detail sharpens, we discern where to invest our time, our energy, even our very lives. Clarity draws us toward our center.

Our organizations have a center – it’s usually captured in the mission statement. Each of us also has something inside that knows when we’re in the center – when we’re on the beam or off the beam. In accepting that knowledge and pursuing that center, we find our passion, our bliss, our happiness.

Allowing ourselves this journey requires a self-acceptance that allows for the mistakes we’ll make along the way. It requires courage as we put ourselves out there and learn in public. And it requires a focus gained from self-reflection (i.e., set manually) rather than dictated from outside ourselves (i.e., autofocus).

Best,

Thom

P.S. Here’s a brief clip of Daniel Goleman speaking on focus – watch clip

ThomA

It's a matter of trust

A few weeks ago during my regular LinkedIn perusal, I came across Marilyn Hewson’s (CEO Lockheed Martin) article on building trust. A quick look piqued my interest, but I wondered if her clearly numbered five principles would be yet another example of off-the-shelf leader hoo-ha. They had that look about them.

Upon reading the article, I saw that her principles were not steps or techniques to be learned & implemented but depths of character to be developed – values, vision, honesty, and gratitude. Building trust is not so much a matter of strategy or tactic but a matter of being trustworthy.

Think of someone you’ve learned to trust. Why did you come to trust this person?

In many cases, trust directly descends from integrity. For me, a person’s integrity stems from the fact that they live an integrated life – what you see if what you get…there are no masks or veneers. It’s what Nan Russell calls authentically showing up. [read her article on trust in the workplace]

In short, building trust is, for the most part, not something you do but a consequence of who you are. We’ll explore this more in an upcoming workshop, Build Trust – Manage Conflict, on October 30.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Emotional Courage

“It needed to be said.”

That one statement summed up the difference between another dance-around-the-issue meeting and a truly productive discussion. Persons willing to say what needed to be said.

Why does this seem such a rare occurrence? In his article, Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail, Peter Bregman suggests that, for many, “the critical challenge of leadership is, mostly, the challenge of emotional courage.” Many just aren’t willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying what needs to be said.

This maxim not only applies to the one willing to break the ice – the rebel or outlier who may easily be ignored – but it also applies to the one willing to back the first one up. This first follower provides validity and serves to make the new issue a topic of discussion rather than a side comment.

Emotional courage, as Bregman says in his insightful article, is the difference between knowing and doing. All leaders know what to do. “What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical.”

Developing emotional courage cannot be accomplished in a workshop or week away. It requires long-term development. How do you (or How would you like to…) develop your emotional courage?

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Work it

I recall several years ago, closing my hotel room door and leaving the last of five regional conferences. Over the previous two years we had identified needs, set agendas, found venues, developed promotions, and guided registrations. Now it was done, and it felt great.

There's a time to plan and a time to do, and, for many, October is a doing time. This is the time that your plan comes alive, becoming a guiding light. It not only tells you what to do and when to do it, but also lets you see how the varieties of tasks relate to one another.

Keeping this valuable knowledge off the shelf and front of mind ensures that the small but often substantive decisions you make along the way furthers your mission.

Plan the work, and then work the plan. If your plan is incomplete, then take time now to complete it. It's important to know where you're headed.

Then enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

Best,

Thom

ThomA

Coffee with Ann Rohrbaugh

In this inaugural installment of our Coffee series, it seems fitting that we sit down with Ann Rohrbaugh, Director of the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), and talk about her years at KPL. Having started as an aide in the bookmobile department while still at WMU, Ann held several positions and became director in 2005.

Tell us how you got to where you are today

I came to Western Michigan University (WMU) for graduate school in library science and expected I’d be here for a year! While at WMU, I had a part-time job in the reference department at KPL. When I graduated there happened to be an opening and I was offered a reference librarian position. From that position I became acting department head, then eventually to the library office in a variety of positions until I became director in 2005. Along the way, I returned to WMU and earned a masters in library administration, a degree program like library science that is no longer offered there.

Why do you most love about the Kalamazoo community?

I expected to be here a year but clearly I’m here for the long haul! It has been a wonderful community in which to settle in, raise a family. I love the size of the community, the wide variety of activities, and of course, the strong support for libraries and learning.

What guides or principles do you rely most upon?

I certainly reply upon professional standards for the library profession….open access; freedom to read, listen, and view; the library bill of rights. I’ve learned to trust my instincts too – I think that comes increasingly with experience and a sense for what will serve our community best.

Who was one of your mentors and what do you carry with you from that relationship?

Mentors early in my career certainly were staff at KPL, especially the Head of the Reference Department and later the library director. From both of them I learned how to operate within an organization, the importance of the long-range view, and appropriate risk taking.

What’s an average day like for you at the Kalamazoo Public Library?

Nine department heads report to me and I meet with each of them most every week, so most days I have one or two standing meetings. I’m usually preparing for some upcoming meeting or event, I often have an outside meeting AND I try to find time to sit at my desk and work….plan for our monthly board meeting, write my weekly blog, make progress on the ‘big-picture’ items. Some days email can be overwhelming – good and bad!

What are the types of challenges/opportunities that keep you up at night?

My overarching concern is the financial uncertainty facing public libraries in Michigan. On a shorter term basis, staff issues sometimes make me restless at night.

How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends in your field?

I read the standard library publications and listservs, attend state and local conferences, talk informally with colleagues. Equally important in the library field is staying current generally – technology, current events and trends, government development that could impact us, local news. That’s a challenge but I do read a lot both professionally and, of course, for pleasure.

What advice do you have for those wishing to have a long lasting career in the nonprofit sector?

I’d offer two pieces of advice: network with others both in your field and in related fields, both locally and at some distance. My small group of Michigan library directors of similar size public libraries has been invaluable both professionally and personally. We offer advice and support to each other. Second, live a balanced life. Nonprofit work can be all-consuming, don’t let it become so for you.

What do you geek?

I geek baking! I no longer select cookbooks for the library’s collection, but I still browse them frequently. I bake often, but now that our kids are grown and live elsewhere, I have to share it with others. Fortunately many baked items freeze well.

Anything else?

Enjoy what you do and if you don’t look for something else.

ThomA

Just ONEthing - Sep 2013

Every month, we learn much from the participants and presenters we meet at ONEplace. In Just ONEthing… we will highlight an insight gained during the past month from our nonprofit community and its partners.

This months’ insight has to do with volunteers and volunteer management. At our supervisor training, Paul Knudstrup shared the rule of thirds related to volunteer management. 

  • One-third will do what you ask, high quality and on time 
  • One-third will do what you ask, but they need a few reminders 
  • One-third will not follow-through on your requests

Each year, you do what you do to thank all of your volunteers, and you invite the two-thirds who did what you asked to volunteer again next year. Then, you recruit new volunteers to fill out the roster.

Over time, you build a strong corps of loyal, trustworthy volunteers.

ThomA

One step...one step...one step...

I love checking things off my list. I love it so much that I add quickly-done things to my list just so I can check them off. Feeling the rush of placing another Check Mark (oh yes, I capitalized it) on this week’s list, I briefly bask in a business buzz.

Now it’s Friday – the week’s end. I’m looking back at the past few days – what’s done, what’s yet to do. Admiring each Check Mark on the list, I pause and puzzle over how puny each accomplishment appears. No one task seemed to do anything of great substance; rather, each task simply moved an effort one little step forward.

Indeed, accomplishments of great substance – such as eating the proverbial pachyderm – are done one step at a time…and often by more than one person or one team or even one organization. Collective impact moves the big issues.

So, each day we move forward, one step by one step. We communicate, person by person. We ask, question by question. We explore, issue by issue – each conversation, each action, each insight contributing a thin layer of substance and understanding.

Eventually, the big issue falls. But it was the daily nudge that brought that issue to the edge.

As they say, the dollar’s in the details, life’s in the little things, and Check Marks ROCK! So, I think that I’ll go make my To Do List for next week.

Best,

Thom

ThomA